DOH still waiting for nurse’s MERS test result from Saudi

MANILA, Philippines – While waiting for the result of its own examination, the health department has yet to get hold of the official test result of the Filipino nurse who reportedly tested positive for the MERS Coronavirus in Saudi Arabia.

"Yung nilalakad dun [sa Saudi Arabia], makakuha ng official result [ng nurse] para may pinanghahawakan tayo kung totoong positive siya,” Health Spokesperson Lyndon Lee Suy told reporters on the sidelines of the Department of Health’s (DOH) budget hearing at the House of Representatatives Thursday, September 4.

(What they're working on in Saudi Arabia is to get the official result of the nurse so we have with us a document that shows she really tested positive.)

DOH activated an inter-agency task force Tuesday, September 2, after it learned that two nurses who were tested for the MERS Coronavirus in Saudi Arabia arrived in the Philippines last August 29. The two are co-workers in a hospital which admitted a MERS-CoV patient.

One of the nurses, a 37-year-old Filipina from General Santos City, tested positive for the virus in Saudi Arabia. (READ: DOH: Filipino nurse with MERS-CoV arrived in PH)

The nurses' supervisor relayed the news to the nurse who tested negative – a 49-year-old Filipina from Bulacan. She then informed the Department of Health (DOH) about their test results early morning Tuesday.

The nurse who tested positive is currently confined at the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City, and her specimen is already with the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) for further testing and confirmation.

Verbal report

Both the Department of Labor and Employment and the Department of Foreign Affairs are still coordinating with their counterparts in Saudi Arabia to get the nurse’s initial test result since DOH acted on a “verbal report."

Rumor din ito na pinapatulan namin dahil what if it’s true? (This is a rumor we acted on because what if it's true?) We can’t just wait and, you know, relax and wait for the result,” Lee Suy explained.

If the initial test result is indeed positive, the government's task force will continue what it already is doing – for instance, the contact tracing of the nurse’s more than 300 co-passengers in two flights: an international flight from Saudi Arabia to Manila, and a local flight from Manila to General Santos City.

But if the initial test result is negative, Lee Suy said they will still wait for the RITM result to validate the nurse’s current status. "Gusto naming makuha [yung result]. Kung negatibo, wala kaming problema nung lumipad siya (We want to get the result. If it is negative, we don't have a problem when she flew in),” Lee Suy added.

The MERS or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus is a highly fatal, influenza-like illness characterized by fever, cough, and often with diarrhea. (READ: FAST FACTS: The MERS Coronavirus)

As of July 23, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 837 laboratory-confirmed cases of infections, 291 of which resulted in death, worldwide. (READ: DOH sends experts to Middle East to check OFWs' MERS status)

Tracking passengers

DOH is already in touch with at least 60 out of 249 passengers in Saudi Airlines flight SV870, the August 29 flight of the two nurses. Lee Suy said the passengers have so far been cooperative.

Meanwhile, 143 passengers of an August 31 Cebu Pacific flight (SJ997) are also being tracked. (READ: Ona on MERS: Nat’l ID system needed to track victims faster)

With the recent news, Lee Suy advised the public not to panic and to stay alert against MERS. (READ: MERS alert: 11 things OFWs should do)

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.